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Minister draws crowd on Mall

By Danielle Rideau and Djamila Grossman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
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Freedom of speech was exercised on campus yesterday as a self-proclaimed Christian apologist yelled interpretations of the Bible and got into screaming matches with students who said otherwise.

Cliffe Knechtle, a representative from the Give Me An Answer ministry, stood on the UA Mall to answer questions about the Bible and defend the faith of the Baptist church, said members of the Refuge and Priority College Ministry who brought him to campus.

Self-labeled as a Christian apologist, or someone who "defends the Christian faith and God's word through dialogue," Knechtle talked to students about many of the Bible's implications of slavery, and different aspects of jealousy, sin, heaven and hell.

Students stood up or sat on the grass in front of the Student Union Memorial Center while Knechtle was up on his legs, roaming around in the area, constantly filmed by his own camera team.

The debate didn't lack raised fists and other expressive gestures that both parties used to emphasize on their arguments.

The format of the talk was intended to inspire such debate because it should be an open dialogue that fosters student questions and discussion, said Jason Mann, a college pastor from the First Southern Baptist Church, 445 E. Speedway Blvd.

While some students passing by yelled comments like "the Bible sucks," other students sat on the grass and listened to Knechtle's words after anticipating his visit for months.

Lori De Young, a wildlife and conservation management sophomore, said she came to see him talk last year and was waiting for months for him to come back this year.

De Young, who is a member of the Refuge, said she was impressed by his ability to challenge students' views.

"I love it," De Young said. "My mind is blown away by how much knowledge this guy has."

Even though there were students who appeared to agree with Knechtle's view, it was obvious that some would "flare up" because it was hard to accept some statements, De Young said.

"I don't share his point of view," said Melissa Criscione, a pre-physiology freshman. "I think it's silly, he is fighting the other person's opinion."

But just because she disagreed with his comments didn't mean it wasn't entertaining, she said.

"He is funny," Criscione said. "He gets really worked up."

Knechtle isn't the only religious speaker to spark heated debate on campus, as many speakers have chosen the Mall for their evangelical outpost.

Last semester, traveling evangelist Jed Smock had weeklong discussions with students on the Alumni Plaza, some of which escalated into full-blown yelling matches.

Smock's form of "confrontational evangelism" drew jeers from a crowd of 150 students who responded by yelling obscenities and burning copies of his book, "Who Will Rise Up: A Call to Confrontational Evangelism."

The Give Me An Answer ministry's goal is not to preach by confrontation, but rather to "answers tough questions about Christianity" by having speakers on college campuses around the country who promote dialogue, according to the group's Web site.

Funding for his trip to the UA came from the First Southern Baptist Church, the Refuge, Priority College Ministry and other campus groups, Mann said.

The groups that sponsor Knechtle's trip are recognized by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona as campus groups, but they do not give funding to religious organizations to pay for a speaker's visit.

Knechtle has been coming to the UA to "spread the word" for the last 10 years. He will be on the UA Mall every day this week until Thursday from noon to 3 p.m.

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